Doolittle Raiders Homecoming
It was a once-in-a-lifetime five-day series of events last May when seven of the 11 surviving Doolittle Raiders were welcomed back by large crowds to Florida’s Fort Walton Beach area, where they had prepared for their famous mission in 1942. The highlight of their visit was a reenactment by three civilian-owned B-25 Mitchells of the secret takeoff training that made it possible for them to fly 16 large land-based Army Air Forces bombers off the short deck of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier and bomb five Japanese cities in retaliation for the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.
They were all members of the 17th Bomb Group who had volunteered for a dangerous mission without knowing what that mission was. Its success depended on proving the hypothesis of their leader, Lt. Col. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle, that it was possible for those bombers to take off from a moving ship with two tons of bombs and enough fuel to fly 2,000 miles.
Army B-25 pilots did not normally practice short-field takeoffs during World War II, and it required much practice to lift off with such heavy loads in less than 400 feet. The group was ordered to Eglin Field, Fla., where they could practice and maintain their modified aircraft at one or more of the auxiliary fields without attracting attention.
The reenactment last May for the large crowd assembled at nearby Duke Field was preceded by a luncheon, a gala at the Emerald Coast Conference Center and several autograph sessions. Proceeds from the events were donated to the Fisher House of the Emerald Coast, currently being built at Eglin to serve America’s hospitalized military veterans and their families (see fisherhouse emeraldcoast.org).
Red Arrows Hit the Big Apple
The Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows finally crossed the Pond this past summer, treating New Yorkers to their first-ever performance by Britain’s 43- year-old aerobatics demonstration team. During a 30-minute display over New York Harbor on June 25, the nine-pilot team—which flies British Aerospace Hawk trainers— made three memorable passes by the Statue of Liberty.
New Mossie Shapes Up
Among the rarest classic airplanes are those made of wood, for they suffer grievously if left to absorb water and rot over years of imperfect storage. Rarer still—in this case the plywood de Havilland Mosquito fighter-bomber—are those that were made in wartime, when longevity wasn’t of particular concern, since combat life spans were often measured in months or even less.
The Mossie was designed to be built by the thousands in furniture- and piano-making factories, by craftspeople who neither knew nor cared anything about airplanes but didn’t need scarce aluminum to build one. New Zealander Glyn Powell has near-singlehandedly undertaken to replicate as exactly as possible what those woodworkers and cabinetmakers did in the 1940s. He has spent some 18 years building a flyable Mosquito, and isn’t finished yet.
Powell’s project reminds me of the old automobile restorer’s joke about jacking up the car’s data plate (today we’d call it a VIN) and replacing everything attached to it. Powell’s Mosquito started life as an Australian-built Mk.43 dual-control trainer and ended its days parked in a New Zealand farm field, where its wooden parts steadily turned to pulp. Powell is having to build anew everything made of wood—essentially the entire airframe—and though he salvaged some metal parts from the hulk, most of the Mosquito’s steel and aluminum components have had to be collected from around the world.
His major challenge is building the Mosquito’s fuselage, a beautifully tapering collection of compound curves. Any buttcrack housing contractor can build a slab-sided home or perhaps even an ice-cream-cone wooden fuselage wrapped around circular formers, but forcing plywood to assume the curves of a flying 400-mph tadpole requires a huge clamshell mold that Powell framed in wood; during the Mosquito’s production run, some factories cast their molds in concrete. (Having constructed a wooden plane myself—a two-seat, single-engine Italian Falco—I can say that you would be amazed at the shapes a soaked, steamed and manipulated sheet of thin plywood can be persuaded to take.)
Powell has already built two fuselages for sale to outside customers—a Mosquito static restoration project in Windsor, Ontario, and a private collection in Suffolk, Va., known as the Fighter Factory—and is now finally starting on his own airplane. When he’s done, he plans to fly NZ2308 from New Zealand back to Australia. If you think New Zealand is “an island off Australia,” be aware that the trip will be a 1,300-mile open-ocean crossing.
To check on Powell’s progress, take a look at his fascinating Web site, mosquito restoration.com.
Way-co, Whack-oh or Whock-oh
That’s the classic response to the question, “How do you pronounce Waco?” If you’re talking about the Texas town, it’s “Way- co,” but the 1930s biplane manufacturer’s name rhymes with Rocco.
Did I say “1930s”? My bad. The WACO Classic Aircraft Corporation is still building the WACO YMF-5, which was certificated as a production design in 1934. Imagine a company in Battle Creek, Mich.—WACO’s current home—still manufacturing brand-new Duesen bergs, complete with superchargers, straight-eight engines, running boards and chrome flex-pipe side exhausts. Much like the “Duesy” (source of the ’40s phrase “it’s a doozie,” meaning something was superlative), the steel tube and fabric YMF is a true 1930s classic. Along with the Beech Staggerwing, Monocoupes and Howard DGAs, WACO biplanes were all-American aviation icons.
The name is upper-case because it’s an acronym, short for Weaver Aircraft Company. George Weaver, the best known of the company’s four founders, was a 1920s barnstormer. In its newest incarnation, WACO has just been bought by manufacturing pro Peter F. Bowers (no relation to the late aviation writer and homebuilt designer Peter M. Bowers), who has big plans to expand WACO’s vintage airplane restoration and servicing subsidiary, Centennial Aircraft Services.
Want to own your own WACO? Go to wacoclassic.com and tell them you have at least $384,500 burning a hole in your flight suit. That’s the base price, but there are dozens of option boxes to check that’ll take you right toward half a million. WACO’s craftspeople will set to work putting in the 5,000 hours it’ll take to weld, stitch, chop, drill, jigsaw, sand, bolt, dope and paint a YPF-5 the way you want it. Actually, it’ll be a YPF-5 Super, with modern instrumentation and radios, hydraulic brakes, a steerable tailwheel and other small design changes to make the airplane a tiny bit more modern.
Sure, Boeing-Stearman PT-17s are still a comparative dime a dozen. But Stearmans look clumsy and industrial next to a WACO; if the PT-17 is a ’32 Ford coupe, the WACO is a Jaguar SS100. Besides, nobody is making brand-new Stearmans.
Fusion Man Takes Wing
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s… Fusion Man? Video of the incredible May 14 flight by Yves Rossy using a jet-powered wing suit made the rounds on the Internet this past summer, and for good reason: It’s not everyday you get to see somebody fly like Superman.
Rossy, a 48-year-old Swiss airline pilot, designed and built the four-jet carbon wing, which propelled him at speeds of up to 186 mph during his five-minute demonstration flight in the Alps. He began the flight by jumping from an airplane at 7,700 feet and landed afterward using a parachute.
The sky’s the limit for the brave, some would say slightly crazy, Rossy. This fall he plans to fly across the English Channel, and he hopes eventually to achieve complete vertical lift, not doubt soaring “to infinity and beyond.”
Surviving Glens Discovered at Kwajalein
On January 20, 1944, the 4,000-ton Japanese cargo ship Maru was sunk during Akibasan pre-invasion attacks on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Discovered in 1965, the shipwreck contains aircraft parts in three of its six cargo holds. Cargo holds 1 and 6 both have a pair of wings in them, and cargo hold 2 contains aircraft floats and two fuselages.
For many years the exact identity of the aircraft was unknown. It was not until April 2008, when I took pictures of the remains and posted them to j-aircraft.com, that the airplane parts were identified as being from two E14Y1 “Glen” floatplanes. Positive identification of the aircraft parts came after several experts on Japanese World War II aircraft provided technical diagrams as well as drawings. The information included several pages copied from an E14Y1 manual captured on Saipan. Due to the depth of the wreck, it took 13 dives over a period of several weeks to obtain enough pictures to complete the identifications.
There were 126 Glens built at the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal between 1939 and 1943. Of that number, these two are the only ones known to still exist. De – signed as a submarine-based aircraft, the Glen was carried on a number of modified I-class subs. On September 9 and 29, 1942, a Glen piloted by Warrant Officer Nobuo Fujita, operating from I-25, dropped bombs in a wooded area along the Oregon coast, attempting to set a forest fire. Those attacks remain the only time in U.S. history when an enemy aircraft has dropped bombs on the Ameri – can mainland.
New Coop for The Swoose
After more than 30 years in storage at the Smithsonian’s Garber storage facility, the oldest surviving B-17 Flying Fortress is finally going to be rebuilt—at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. The Swoose joins another Fort, the B-17F Memphis Belle, in Dayton’s busy restoration bays. Mean – while the B-17G Shoo-Shoo Baby, currently displayed at the NMUSAF, is slated for transfer to the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center, in northern Virginia. The Dayton museum’s senior curator, Terry Aitken, described the swap as a “demonstration of good stewardship of our national historic collection,” since the NMUSAF staff will be able to use the expertise gained from working on Memphis Belle to restore this older model.
The Swoose is the only surviving example of a “shark-fin” B-17D-BO. Originally named Ole Betsy, it participated in the first combat mission in the Philippines after Pearl Harbor. When it was damaged in combat in 1942, a tail and engines from other B-17s were grafted on; thereafter it was known as The Swoose, taken from bandleader Kay Kyser’s song “Alexander the Swoose,” about a creature that was half swan, half goose.
Anyone interested in seeing how work on The Swoose and Memphis Belle is progressing can sign up for a behind-the-scenes tour, held each Friday, by visiting: nationalmuseum.af.mil/ visit/tours/index.asp. Or call the museum at 937-255-3286.
Rodina Sets a Nonstop Record for the Motherland
Major Marina Raskova, who recruited and organized the all- woman 122nd Aviation Group, was a well-known aviatrix long before WWII. In fact she became one of three women honored as Heroes of the Soviet Union on November 2, 1938, after a flight from Mos cow to Komsomolsk, in the Far East.
Polina Osipenko and Valentina Grizodubova joined Raskova, who served as navigator, in Rodina (“Motherland”), a twin-engine DB-2 long-range bomber based on the Tupolev ANT-37, in September 1938. The flight lasted 26 hours, 29 minutes, and covered 6,450 kilo – meters (4,008 miles), setting a nonstop distance record for women.
But before they reached Komsomolsk, icing forced them to crash-land. The crew prepared by throwing out all excess equipment, then Raskova—whose separate navigator’s cockpit was extremely vulnerable in a crash—judged it best to bail out before the landing. Grizodubova and Osipenko brought Rodina down safely, but Raskova (who had forgotten her emergency kit and only took along two chocolate bars) searched for 10 days before finding the others. All three were rescued and hailed as the “Winged Sisters” throughout the USSR.
Raskova, Osipenko and Grizo dubova were not only the first women named Heroes of the Soviet Union, they were the only ones so honored before WWII.
Originally published in the November 2008 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.